Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning – The future is now

President Obama recently released the National Ocean Policy that outlines a new way of doing business that focuses on a tool called Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning (CMSP) to achieve national objectives. CMSP is defined as a comprehensive, adaptive, integrated, ecosystem-based, and transparent spatial planning process, based on sound science, for analyzing current and anticipated uses of ocean and coastal areas. CMSP identifies areas most suitable for various types of activities in order to reduce conflicts among uses, reduce environmental impacts, facilitate compatible uses, and preserve critical ecosystem services to meet economic, environmental, security, and social objectives. While this is a scary and uncertain concept for many people, I think that it boils down to a very old idea – communication is good. At its most basic level, the CMSP framework attempts to provide a mechanism for state, federal, and tribal partners to talk to each other and to stakeholders when making decisions to avoid conflicts between ocean users, industry, and the environment.

Existing ocean uses. Conflicts or opportunities? (Photo: Massachusetts Ocean Partnership)

To kick off this sea change (pun intended!) in ocean policy, the federal government hosted a National CMSP workshop in Washington DC. I was sweating buckets in the humidity, as managers, tribal representatives, and stakeholders got together and starting talking about how CMSP might work in their part of the country. I was excited to see that while the majority of participants were enthusiastic and recognized the need for CMSP, there were concerns raised about the “top down” nature of the National Ocean Policy and the need to strengthen the ability for each region to determine its own objectives and priorities. I think that the West Coast Governors’ Agreement (WCGA) along with other regional partners have a big part to play in helping to articulate these regional objectives.

West Coast breakout session at the National CSMP Workshop. (Photo: Hallenbeck)

The West Coast has been engaged in this type of planning for quite awhile already. California has had experience planning for marine protected areas and is now in the process of designing a data portal that will facilitate sharing of spatial information amongst stakeholders and agencies. Washington recently passed their CMSP Bill, which I believe is a critical first step in providing a mandate for state agencies to coordinate activities and engage in comprehensive planning. Oregon is currently planning for ocean wave energy development in their territorial sea and has gone through an extensive data gathering and stakeholder process to incorporate this new ocean use with the least amount of conflict with existing uses (e.g. fishing, telecommunications, recreation) and ecological resources.

I know the horizon is bright for our nation’s oceans, if we can just keep talking to one another…